Monday, 14 November 2005

And again..............

Up front - I admit that I exceed 70 MPH on the motorway when conditions allow. It's not unknown for me to exceed the speed limit by a significant amount when there is no traffic around and the road is dry and in good condition and visibility is good. I spent a year living and working in Germany where I learnt a good deal about driving quickly and safely on motorways which only have speed limits when the road is wet and while I make no claim to being a good driver I've never been involved in an accident on a motorway and the UK motorways are statistically the safest place to drive in the country. But now HMG are considering clamping down on motorway speeding in the name of global warming.
This piece in the Guardian discusses a report commissioned in September, 2004. The part which piqued my interest is:
Officials acknowledge that any move to force the 15 million motorists who currently exceed the 70 mph speed limit to slow down would be "politically sensitive", but they say it would save significant amounts of carbon dioxide pollution. Engine efficiency falls quickly beyond 70 mph.
Do all cars suffer from this decline in efficiency beyond 70 MPH? I have a feeling that BMW, Mercedes and Audi might have something to say about this! What about the latest generation diesel HDI engines?

I am not suggesting that this is a crock of rubbish but yet again the information we're being given is "dumbed down" to a level that Sun readers will accept and this process assumes a level of comprehension far below what I'd suggest is the average in this and any other country in the developed world.

I think we need to move away from the conditioned response that anything which saves the planet by reducing global warming is automatically good to one where there is a reasoned debate about balancing the needs of the planet with the needs of society. And I'm sure that there is no intention of filling the government's coffers with the windfall from enforcing motorway speed limits - that would simply be cynical wouldn't it?

Grasp the nettle. Stop generating power using fossil fuels, build nuclear power plants or gas fired plants (I know that gas is a fossil fuel but it's cleaner than coal and also doesn't have the same transport on-cost) and generate more power from renewable sources. Stop importing cheap, "dirty" coal from Poland to fire Drax (850g CO2 per kWh). 27 of the 30 dirtiest power plants are coal fired and four of them are in the UK according to WWF (that includes Drax) and Friends of the Earth (in a BBC report) point out that coal fired stations emit three times the volume of greenhouses gases that gas fired stations create.

According the the government report;
Stricter enforcement of the 70 mph limit, the document says, would save 890,000 tons of carbon a year - more than the biofuels obligation and many other listed measures put together.
Drax alone generates 16.49 million tonnes of CO2 each year, and for the sake of this argument the difference between tonnes and tons is immaterial. We can't simply close the coal fired stations, we still need the power, and how ever they are replaced there will be CO2 emissions but let's start looking at long term solutions rather than short term gimmicks. WWF have a wonderful summary page on Drax which looks at the effects of replacing Drax with another coal fired plant, a gas fired plant or renewables - and uses the number of cars taken off the roads as a comparison.

Am I being selfish and greedy when I drive at 80 MPH? Possibly. Am I endangering the plant? Possibly. If all of the 15 million who travel above the speed limit slow down will it cut CO2 emissions? Certainly. Will it make as much difference as a long term plan for cleaner energy generation? No. And is it a long term solution to anything - not even close. Look at power generation, a coherent public transport infrastructure, sensible planning, a real commitment to cutting greenhouse gas and stop messing about.

This latest suggestion is like changing the wiper blades when the engine blows up - or rearranging the deck chairs on The Titanic.

9 careful considerations:

TRT said...

Tsk! I tried sticking to 50 once on a run to Walsall. Usually it takes about 30 litres to get there and back on the motorway at 70mph. I stuck to 50mph and it took a miserly 15 litres. So, yes, it does make a difference. I also use a hand mower for my lawn as a petrol motor like the chunt next door uses (his garden is less than half the size of mine) throws out the equivalent of the fumes from a 5 mile car journey, and an electric the CO2 equivalent of a 3 mile car trip. Southport is home to the British Lawnmower Museum by the way.

Angie said...

I'm glad you posted this on a way I can actually function (yesterday would not have worked for me).

Very good post, and very valid points. Unfortunately when has anyone in any government listened to reason?

Nogbad said...

But GW. To be environmentally friendly you should have been using public ransport rather than driving! And now you will be entirely responsible for me driving over 600 miles to visit the British Lawnmower Museum - how on earth can Southport keep such a gem hidden???

Angie, yesterday wouldn't have worked for you? Why is that then? Not feeling well? A tad under the weather? A bit peach martini'd out? ;-)

TRT said...

But the government is democratic. So the voice of millions of people screaming together sounds like white noise and hot air, and that's what government is, the very voice of reason.

Damn! But have you ever tried to get to Walsall by train? It's not fun. I wrote about Birmingham train travel so so so long ago in the Douglas Adam's fanzine...

Where was I? Oh yes, Southport. I didn't know it was there either until I found a book called Bollocks to Alton Towers, which mentions Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music and the Glocs. Button Museum. There is also a museum of the propelling pencil, but I don't see the point in that.

Nogbad said...

What a wonderful country we live in! Where else would one find museums dedicated to buttons or propelling pencils? And what other country would have the good sense to hide where they are and thus avoid coach loads of tourists, possibly from abroad, wearing out the exhibits by looking at them? Brilliant!

Angie said...

Uh ... yeah ... you could say that!! Just hope I didn't do anything to embarass myself!

TRT said...

Have you seen Kelvedon Secret Nuclear Bunker? There's a classic picture of a road sign with a big brown 'Place of interest' arrow pointing out, Secret Nuclear Bunker.

Here it is!

Echo Mouse said...

This is a great post Nog.

When people harp about my SUV, I have always said "shut down the factories or fix them so THEY stop polluting, then I'll do my part".

As you said, lots of dumbing down and passing the buck onto the little people. When in fact, it's the big leagues creating most of the problem. If they fix their plants and manufacturing processes, I'll be glad to follow suit. But it just isn't possible to live self-sufficiently in Canada without an SUV. I've had cars in winter. It sucks. Not to mention buying things that don't fit in the car. And staying mobile in bad weather during an emergency. My SUV has saved my life and others a few times now. I'll never give it up. Now, if I were just driving it for status, then yea, that'd be stupid I suppose. But even then, it would be my right. Tell them to stop making them, then people can't buy them right?

Whew..sorry about the mini-rant. Guess you hit a nerve ;)

Nogbad said...

Mouse - glad you are back and biting! :-)

I'm guessing that what you describe as an SUV is what we might know as a Chelsea Tractor - a 4x4? Given the scale of the country you live in and the inclement weather you frequently have (snow 11 months of the year) it's understandable that you want a set of wheels that can do the job.